Grounded! What The Electronics Industry Can Learn from Airlines

Anyone who has boarded a plane in the past several months knows this all too well: the near-term future of airlines is up in the air.

From smallest to largest, all the carriers have been dramatically affected by the post-Covid rebound in passenger air travel. Delta and United Airlines each cut 30% of their respective staff in 2020.

And while many observers point to the attractive buyouts the carriers dangled before critical employees (read: pilots) as means to cut costs amid the mass groundings during the pandemic, employment has shot up over the past 18 months.

Take Delta, for instance. The second-largest airline in the world has hired 18,000 new employees since January 2021. But even with its staffing back to 95% of what it was pre-Covid, capacity reportedly is some 10 percentage points lower. Reason: it takes time to train the newbies.

“The chief issue we’re working through is not hiring but a training and experience bubble,” said Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta.

And the more complicated the job, the longer the training period. Which reveals yet another crack in the fuselage: a lack of trainers. To wit: American says its pilots are basically stuck waiting for training classes to open up, as the number of new hires far outpaces the available slots. The backlog is said to be six months or more.

The issue runs so deep, it has its own name: the Juniority problem.

United has gone on the offensive, blaming — who else? — the government. United chief operating officer Jon Roitman estimates “over 50% of our delay minutes and 75% of our cancels in the past four months were because of FAA traffic management initiatives.”

But all this comes back to the industry’s lack of foresight — or unwillingness — to continue to invest in its workers during the inevitable economic cycles.

You know where I’m going with this.

The PCB industry is historically boom/bust. We are coming off a run of very strong years, and the forecast, according to Dr. Hayao Nakahara, the preeminent researcher in the industry, continues to look bright.

But the graying of the industry is very real, and its long past time OEMs invested in recruiting and training the next generation of designers, design engineers and manufacturing engineers. (And yes, I am pointing at OEMs, since they are top the of the pyramid and ultimately their needs are the driver for the rest of the supply chain’s decision-making.

Let’s learn from the airlines, or, more precisely, their mistakes. It’s time for the push to onboard the next generation of engineers to take flight.

Conductor Sizing Software: How Much is Knowledge Worth?

My name is Mike Jouppi and I am the sole owner of a software application for sizing electrical traces in Printed Circuit Boards.  A description of the application is here.  

I would like to sell this software application and all of the material that went into creating it.  My company has developed 68 design charts.  It also has the capability to create charts for any technology and tools to import the results into the software application.

The electronics design community has started to recognize the importance of the pre-design phase of conductor sizing.  Altium has incorporated IPC-2152 for trace sizing and has training on the topic.  There are many calculators on the Web that are applying IPC-2152 design charts.

Unfortunately, very few understand the physics behind what they are employing as a tool and continue to add confusion to the electronics design community.

If you are interested in contacting me for a conversation on this topic and having a discussion about purchasing my company’s software, my email and phone number are provided below.

Mike Jouppi

Thermal Management LLC

303-359-3280

www.thermalman.com

Irene Sterian: In Memoriam

I am heartbroken to share the news that Irene Sterian passed away on May 8. Irene was director, technology and innovation development at Celestica, and before that held engineering roles at IBM.

But she is better known as the always cheerful mentor to younger engineers through SMTA, the REMAP technology accelerator she founded, and before that, NGen Canada,  Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster.

She is survived by her husband, three children, brother and mother, not to mention legions of colleagues and friends.

For details on how to remember her, please click here.

Done Deal

The Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA) today announced it has closed the acquisition of the functional assets of UP Media Group Inc., including its industry leading publications and trade shows.

The deal, which was announced during the PCB West conference and exhibition last October, includes the annual PCB West and PCB East trade shows; PRINTED CIRCUIT DESIGN & FAB (PCD&F) and CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY magazine; the PCB UPdate digital newsletter; the PCB Chat podcast series; the PCB2Day workshops and webinars; and Printed Circuit University, the dedicated online training platform.

Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA) (pcea.net) is a nonprofit association that promotes printed circuit engineering as a profession and encourages, facilitates, and promotes the exchange of information and integration of new design concepts through communications, seminars, workshops, and professional certification through a network of local and regional PCEA-affiliated groups. PCEA serves the global PCB community through print, digital and online products, as well as live and virtual events. Membership is free to individuals in the electronics industry.

If You Thought Foxconn Is Just a Manufacturer …

… Think again.

Foxconn, the world’s largest EMS/ODM, with annual revenues now topping $200 billion (!), said this week it now has more than 54,000 invention patents worldwide.

Some 63% of them have been issued in the US (17,600 patents) and Japan (16,200).

Among the most common technology areas:

  • Computer accessories 17%
  • Semiconductors 14%
  • Processing and detection technologies 13%
  • Robots and optoelectronics equipment 12%
  • Display equipment 11%

If you wonder what the end-game is, think worldwide monopoly.

What’s Old is News

God love the Internet.

Nothing ever ages. Or, better said, anything can be reborn in a moment.

Take for instance, today’s report in DigiTimes.

“India officials are allegedly subsidizing US$10 billion in semiconductor manufacturing, according to Reuters citing knowledgeable sources.”

A quick review of Reuters stories over the past 90 days show no such reporting, however.

Is DigiTimes wrong?

Nope. But one must go back to Mar. 31 to find the piece: “India is offering more than $1 billion in cash to each semiconductor company that sets up manufacturing units in the country as it seeks to build on its smartphone assembly industry and strengthen its electronics supply chain, two officials said.”

This happens a lot, actually. I got a kick out of a recent recycling by multiple industry news aggregators that claimed Epec has acquired NetVia.

“Hmmm,” I thought. “That’s weird.” Because I am pretty confident that already happened.

And sure enough, that deal dates to November 2020.

What happens is that aggregators use alerts to find news, and crawlers sometimes bring old information back to the surface. Unsuspecting or inattentive editors grab the “new story” and link to it for that day’s newsletter.

And everything old is new again.

Tin Whiskers 101: Part 2: What Causes Them

Folks,

Continuing our series on tin whiskers. In the last post we discussed what they are. in this post we will discuss what causes them.

Tin whiskers are primarily caused by compressive stresses in tin. The most common cause of the stresses is copper diffusion into the tin as seen in Figure 1a. Such diffusion is common when tin is plated, melted or evaporated on copper. Copper preferentially diffuses into tin exacerbating tin whisker production.

Figure 1. Some causes of tin whiskers

 Another cause of tin whiskers can occur when the tin is plated, melted or evaporated on a material that has a lower coefficient of expansion than the tin, such as alloy 42 or ceramic. When temperature increases, the tin is constrained by the lower coefficient of expansion material. This constraint causes compressive stresses in the tin that can result in tin whiskers. See Figure 1b.

Less common causes are corrosion, as seen in Figure 1c and mechanical stresses as seen in Figure 1d.

Since copper diffusion is one of the most likely causes of tin whiskers, this mechanism deserves elaboration. The left image in Figure 2 depicts the mechanism of copper diffusion into tin. The mechanism is so strong that the diffusion of the copper often leaves voids in the copper. Such voids are called Kirkendall voids. The right image in Figure 2 is an x-ray map of copper (green) diffusing into the tin (black).

Figure 2. Copper diffusing into tin.

Clearly, one way to minimize this type of tin whisker growth is to prevent copper diffusing into tin. In a future post, we will discuss this and other tin whisker mitigation techniques. 

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

Best Wishes,

The ‘Seers’

It’s always interesting when the seers, also known as the industry’s journalists, get together for a chat.

Hosted by Mike Konrad, I joined Trevor Galbraith, Phil Stoten and Eric Miscoll to discuss post-pandemic production, innovations in our industry, supply chain and labor shortages, and of course, some predictions.

The podcast can be listened to or downloaded from PCB Chat here: https://upmg.podbean.com/e/rm-76-meet-the-press/

Or, if you are really brave, you can see us in action here:

EMS on Overdrive

The EMS industry has posted several straight months of what some consider excessively high book-to-bill ratios. The April peak of 1.62 has only marginally fallen over the past couple months and, as of this writing, was 1.48 in June, the most recent data available.

As a refresher, the ratio is calculated by dividing the amount (in dollars) of bookings by the amount in shipments. In other words, if over a set time period a company gets $110 worth of orders and ships $100 worth of product, its book-to-bill ratio would be 1.10. A ratio over 1.0 is considered an indicator of future market growth.

So a positive ratio is a good sign, generally speaking, but too much of a good thing makes folks nervous. And ratios in the 1.40 and above range are historically at the high end.

Some are concerned of an overheated market, but conversations with several leading EMS firms suggest instead that OEMs are offering longer forecasts, which are inflating the numerator. For instance, if the typical window was six months, it might be nine or even 12 months now. That pushes more “orders” into the data pile, but it’s a mathematical anomaly, not a sign of double-booking.

I don’t expect the sky to fall, at least this time.